Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxiii.

What Will he Do?

When last I saw Dilston it was in the dead of winter; the woods were bare of leaves, and the dark Devilstone Water poured through its narrow rocky banks in a broad stream; now the rocks were hidden with trees and brambles, alder, wych-elm, and rowan, and bright with summer flowers; while, as one stood upon the little bridge, the shrunken water was like a little thread of silver running among great mossy stones.

The courtyard of the castle was full of people —— some old men and women waiting for the doles which were freely given every day; some farmers wanting to have speech with my lord; some stable-boys, grooms, and men with guns and dogs. As we went up the steps which lead to the great hall, he came out himself and met us.

‘Why, Mr. Hilyard!’ he said, laughing; ‘my lusty Tony! how goes it with Mr. Forster?’ And here I threw back my hood and he recognised me. ‘Dorothy!’ he cried, his kind eyes softening; ‘my cousin Dorothy!’ He gave me both his hands. ‘It is four years since we met —— and then —— you are well and happy, cousin?’

‘Quite well, my lord; and as happy as Tom’s affairs will let me be.’

‘Come, let me take you to the Countess.’

Happiness makes young mothers beautiful. Who could be more beautiful than the woman who rose to meet me, tossing her little boy in her arms, while his saucy hands pulled and tangled her hair rolled back from her forehead? She was small of stature, and possessed bright eyes, and such a quickness of expression as I have never since seen in any other woman. She looked at me so curiously that I perceived she knew something of what had passed between my lord and me. Then she made me sit down, took off my hood with her own hands, and gave me a cup of chocolate, begging me to rest after my ride across the moor.

‘And where is Tom?’ asked the Earl.

‘He is now at Blanchland, where he much desires to see your lordship. You have not learned, perhaps, that the Scots are in arms.’

‘The Scots have risen?’ he cried, with change of colour. ‘This is great news indeed!’

‘The Scots have risen?’ cried the Countess, clasping his arm with her little fingers. ‘This is good news indeed!’

‘I heard it from some gipsies,’ said Mr. Hilyard. ‘There was a hunting-party, where the Prince was proclaimed; and they are said to be already many thousands strong. Mr. Forster, on hearing the news, left his hiding-place in the castle, and hath ridden to Blanchland, where he desires the honour of a conference with your lordship.’

‘I will ride over this morning,’ said the Earl thoughtfully.

‘But Dorothy will stay with me,’ said his wife; ‘we will have our conference while you have yours.’

He left us. As he rode away with Mr. Hilyard, he met outside the castle Mr. Errington, of Beaufront, to whom he told the news, and asked for counsel.

‘My lord,’ said Mr. Errington gravely, ‘look around you. To whom do all these fair lands belong?’

‘Why, truly,’ he replied, ‘to myself.’

‘Then, my lord, do not, I charge you, risk so goodly an inheritance, save at the sure and certain call of honour.’

I know not what passed between him and Tom, but I believe that Tom was all for action and the Earl for prudence. Meanwhile, we women sat conversing of the children, and of household things, and of my lord’s habits and tastes. By many little gentle touches and hints the Countess made me feel that she had heard of me, and how once her husband loved me, and gave me to understand that she was not jealous of any woman, because she knew that she possessed his whole heart (which was, indeed, the case, yet I hope I should never have given her cause for the least jealousy).

My lord came back the same day, and after supper we had a long and grave discourse, during which I discovered that he was truly much in love with his wife, and uneasy at the mere thought of exposing her and her children to the sorrow and unhappiness which would attend a failure; that he now regarded the cause of the Prince as becomes one who hath so great a stake to lose; that the Countess was far more eager than himself (as knowing less of the danger); and that he looked upon the news with distrust and suspicion.

‘Let us wait,’ he said, ‘for the English people to give their voice. Without the will of the people the Prince can never return.’

‘It rests,’ said the Countess, ‘with the natural leaders of the people to guide them.’

My lord laughed gently.

‘My dear,’ he said, ‘a Catholic in this country cannot be a leader. Let us wait. Now, cousin, tell us of yourself and of the hearts you have broken since you conquered mine, but kindly gave it back to me for future use.’

The news of the Scottish rising made the Government more anxious than ever to secure the leaders of the plot in England. Therefore Tom was quickly warned that he must quit Blanchland and seek safety elsewhere. First, he stayed a short while at the house of Mr. Patten, the Vicar of Allendale, and next —— but it is a tedious task to tell of all his hiding-places; for wherever he went, presently, by some treachery, the messengers in search of him got upon his track, and he had to change his quarters. Mr. John Fenwick, of Bywell, kept him for awhile, and here he would certainly have been caught, but that the messenger stayed half a mile from the house to get the aid of a constable, so that Tom had just time to escape, leaving his bed warm, so to speak. This Mr. Fenwick was expected to have joined the rising, but hung back, no doubt to his own great satisfaction, when he found how things were going. For this I neither praise nor blame him; on the one hand, a man is right to hesitate when so great a thing as his estate and the fortunes of his children are at stake; on the other, he ought not to raise vain expectations in the minds of his friends. Had all gone out who were expected or had promised, there might have been seen a different ending.

As for me, I remained at Dilston, and for a fortnight more we expected news, but heard little. Mr. Hilyard went backwards and forwards between Newcastle and Hexham, bringing in such intelligence as he could learn. The Scottish rebels, it was certain, numbered 12,000 men. The Prince was expected daily; they were masters of all Fife, with the seaboard; Colonel Oxbrough, Captain Gascoigne, and Mr. Talbot had arrived at Newcastle to stir up the north, and remind loyal gentlemen of their pledges; the Whigs at Newcastle were bestirring themselves; men were looking at each other and expecting civil war; but London was reported firm for the Protestant Succession, and the Prince and Princess of Wales every day going without fear among the people. And, alas! Lady Crewe, from anxiety for her nephew’s safety, had fallen into convulsions, or fits of some other kind, and was lying on her bed grievously ill.

I think it was about the 28th of September that Charles Radcliffe brought us the news of the warrant issued against Lord Derwentwater. He rode all the way from London to warn his brother; the messenger charged with his arrest was already at Durham.

‘Why?’ asked my lord. ‘What have I done that they should arrest me?’

‘You are the Prince’s companion and cousin,’ replied his brother. ‘Is not that enough? They think they will strike the Prince by striking you.’

‘Faith!’ said Lord Derwentwater, smiling. ‘They know not his Highness who think he can be struck through another.’

After receiving this disquieting intelligence, my lord sat for a good while in silence, and we women waited patiently to hear his conclusion. Then he rose, and began to walk up and down the room in grave thought. We sat still with never a word.

‘Wife,’ he said, at last, ‘hast thou any counsel for thy husband?’

She shook her head at first. But he kissed her tenderly, and bade her speak what was in her mind.

‘I know,’ she said, taking his hand and kissing it, ‘your great love for your children and your wife. You would not rashly do aught to imperil those you love. This I know full well, and am thankful therefor. But —— oh, my lord! —— remember the days when we were little at St. Germain’s and you were a page of the Prince, and I, with my schoolfellows, did all that women can —— prayed for him daily. Should it be said that Lord Derwentwater, when the chance came to bring the King to his own again, hung back, and left to others the honour? Nay, my lord’——(she threw herself upon his neck)—— ‘I know: it is thy life, as well as thy fortune, that hangs upon this chance. Thy life —— oh, my dear lord! my dear lord! and mine with it!’

‘Sweetheart!’—— my lord folded her tenderly in his arms ——‘were there a chance, believe me, Derwentwater would be the first. Yet, I doubt —— I doubt whether the chance be not a forlorn hope. It is already a fortnight and more since we had tidings of the insurrection, and as yet nothing hath been done, so far as we can tell. Patience, therefore. Let not thy quick woman’s wit jump to the conclusion that the business is done before we know if it be well begun.’

Then he turned to me and said, with his sweet smile, in which present friendship was combined with the memory of the past:

‘Fair Dorothy, we have had many talks in the former time over this and other matters: give me thy counsel.’

‘Oh, my lord!’ I said, moved to tears by the sight of this tenderness, ‘what have I to say which her ladyship hath not already better said? Yet I pray your lordship to do nothing rashly, and to think always of your wife and tender children.’

And at that moment the nurse opened the door and brought them in —— two little creatures with fair curling locks and blue eyes. The elder, who could walk, broke from his nurse’s arms and ran across the floor with outstretched hands, crying to his father. The Earl caught him up and kissed him fondly. When he set the boy down again, his eyes were filled with tears.

‘My mind,’ he said, ‘is made up. I am to be arrested, who have no knowledge of any plot at all. I will surrender.’

He looked at his wife; but she cast down her eyes, and he left the room.

‘He will surrender!’ said Charles. ‘What, without a blow?’

‘He will surrender,’ said the Countess, ‘and I who looked to see him riding gallantly at the head of his regiment ——’

I have since that day often considered the case. I think, now, that he was right. For, if he surrendered, it was only one man the less (because he would never force his own people into the service); and, if he did not surrender, he would have to become, like Tom, a wanderer and fugitive, until he was forced, as Tom was forced, into taking up arms.

But in this, as in everything else, fate was too strong for him. He repaired that same day to the house of Mr. B——n, Justice of the Peace (I repress his name for pity, because his repentance must since surely have been as great as his fault was astonishing). This magistrate, after hearing what his lordship had to say, refused (illegally) to accept his surrender (whereby he brought my lord to his death), and persuaded him to return to his own house again. This my lord did in great heaviness.

‘The stars,’ he said, ‘in their courses fight against me. All are of one mind. They say my death is sought. They will not suffer me to surrender. What next —— ah! Dorothy, what next?’

One thing was certain, that, if he did not surrender and would not be caught, he must go into hiding. And this he did. And for nearly three weeks, the great Earl of Derwentwater became a fugitive, living I know not exactly how or where, but in hiding always. And for us who remained behind there was nothing left but to pray and to hope. If we women were Jacobites before, judge what we were now, when all our hopes depended on success! Charles stayed with us, waiting. He was full of courage and of heart, yet even he confessed that London was strong for the Protestant Succession —— but London would come round. As for our armies! They should drive King George’s troops before them like cattle; why, Lord Mar had with him already 12,000 men, and still they came flocking in —— it did one good, at such a time, to have so gallant and brave a lad as Charles Radcliffe with us.

He knew, as well, that the three secret messengers who usually travelled in the north had arrived at Newcastle, viz.: Mr. John Shafto (who was afterwards shot at Preston); Captain Robert Talbot, a Roman Catholic, formerly in the French service (he was executed for high treason); and Captain John Hunter (hanged at Liverpool). With them were Colonel Oxbrough, who had served under King James II.; the two Wogans, Nicolas and Charles; and Mr. James Talbot (who afterwards escaped from Newgate, but being retaken was executed). Other messengers there were, but I forget their names.

I must not forget that one day, when we were talking about other things, I asked him for news of his brother Frank.

He shook his head.

‘Frank,’ he said, ‘is troubled with a grievous cough, which keeps him much at home. Yet would he have ridden with me north, but was prevented.’

He then went on to tell me that he was held and bound captive by love, and that with an actress.

‘She was in his lodging,’ he said, ‘when last I saw Frank, and sprang at me like a tigress when I asked him to come with me. “He go a-fighting?” she cried. “Never! for any Prince or King among them all. Go tell my lord that I have got his brother, and am keeping him safe.” Strange! Frank is bewitched.’

I though no more about the matter at the time, but afterwards I remembered it.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32